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Legal Clinic

Are Written Job Descriptions A Requirement?

Question: Our company does not provide written job descriptions for employees. Should we have them? If so, what topics should be included in a job description?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
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Answer: Effectively written job descriptions can be one of the most significant tools employers can use to enhance the management of employees in areas such as recruitment, hiring, compensation, performance evaluations, promotion and training. For recruitment and hiring efforts, job descriptions may serve as valuable comparators for employers to assess job candidates in relationship to the requirements of a position, and to determine which candidates will be best-matched for the job. Job descriptions can also help employers determine compensation for a position based on a determination of the minimum skills necessary for the satisfactory performance of the job.

Job descriptions will also enable employers to better determine the training necessary to further employee skills and to measure the criteria for employee performance and expectations. Beyond serving as significant tools for these human resource functions, job descriptions can help companies adhere to best practices of being in compliance with laws and regulations and minimize the risk of employment litigation. For example, job descriptions should contain a description of essential and non-essential job functions. In turn, these descriptions will serve as useful tools for employers related to compliance in areas such as providing reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state disability laws. By providing a description of the essential functions of the job, employers will also more effectively determine how certain functions should be modified, if necessary.

To write a job description, employers should consider conducting an analysis of the job. A comprehensive job analysis may involve the following:

*           Identification of specific job duties and responsibilities, educational requirements and skills necessary to perform the duties and responsibilities;

*           Discussion of activities and tasks with supervisors and managers;

*           Observation of employees performing tasks and an understanding of the methods involved in performance of the tasks; and

*           Comparison and understanding of the relationship of the job to other jobs within the organization.

A systematic review of the positions will allow employers to draft effective job descriptions. A comprehensive job description may include:

*           Job title;

*           Job objective or purpose;

*           Essential duties and responsibilities of the position in the order of significance;

*           Non-essential duties and responsibilities of the position;

*           Skills of the job, including hard and soft skills ranging from computer competency to value as a team player;

*           Description of the position in relationship to other jobs within the organization, including supervisory duties and other relationships;

*           Educational and training requirements, including minimum education and training required, and desired training and education;

*           Minimum work experience required and other desired work experience;

*           Equipment, if applicable, for the performance of the job;

*           Salary range;

*           Job location; and

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*           Days/hours of work.

Finally, in addition to distributing job descriptions to employees, employers may also want to consider drafting certain employee handbook sections considering the uses of job descriptions in their organizations. For example, the use of job descriptions may be included within the section discussing the job evaluation process, including language such as the following:

*           Job Descriptions: A position is evaluated based on the scope of responsibilities and skills required to perform the essential functions of the position. A job description must be created and used as part of the job evaluation process. Job descriptions establish a clear identification of each position using factors such as job title, education, relevant knowledge, skills, job duties and supervisory qualifications. All legal compliance requirements are strictly adhered to for the purposes of salary and job classification.

*           Job Re-evaluation: Should a position need to be re-evaluated due to changes in job responsibilities, a job description will be revised and submitted to the human resource department.

*                       The employee’s supervisor will provide the employee with a copy of the job description as well as evaluation criteria for their position.

Companies that do not have written job descriptions should consider implementing them in their organizations. In a constantly evolving workplace environment, companies that already have written job descriptions should consistently evaluate them to ensure that they are up-to-date and include the details and specific qualifications necessary for performance of the job.

Keisha-Ann G. Gray is senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department of Proskauer in New York and co-chair of the Department's Employment Litigation and Arbitration Practice Group. Proskauer Associate Nayirie Kuyumjian assisted with this article.

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